Sunday, December 3, 2023

LAT untimed (Jack)  


NYT 19:26 (Nate) 


USA Today untimed (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 12:02 (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo 7:09 (Matthew) 


Tracy Bennett’s New York Times crossword, “Freestyling” — Nate’s write-up

12.02.2023 Sunday New York Times Crossword

12.02.2023 Sunday New York Times Crossword

This week, we’re treated to an in-house, low word count themeless Sunday that mostly felt like a success! There were fun long entries like WHAT ELSE IS NEW, ESTROGEN PATCH, WACKADOODLE, HELLSCAPE, REMIND ME AGAIN, and FANTASY SERIES to keep things feeling fresh, though there were certainly a few bits of glue (MULCTS DACHAS EONIAN along with many proper nouns) to hold it all together. A few of the corners gave me a bit of trouble, but it all thankfully fell in the end.

One thing that caught my eye was the unnecessary “golf” dupe between MINIGOLF at 64D and “golf” in the clue for NINE HOLE at 19D. I’d think they’d have programs to try and catch stuff like that?

All in all, a nice brain teaser before I head out to start the holiday party circuit this evening (thankfully, it’s still warm here in LA, so the parties are outdoors!). What did you think of the puzzle? Let us know in the comments section – and keep an eye out for Tuesday’s puzzle… :D

LA Times crossword, “Do the Dishes” by Steve Marron & Zhouqin Burnikel — Jack’s write-up

Theme: Food puns. Common phrases have their last word replaced with a homophone food item.

December 3rd LA Times crossword solution — “Do the Dishes” by Steve Marron & Zhouqin Burnikel

  • 23A. [Score a seafood morsel in a bite of paella?] = PULL A MUSSEL (pull a muscle)
  • 25A. [Carefully check some deli stock?] = SCREEN LOX (screen locks)
  • 53A. [Hamburgers and hot dogs sold at a NASCAR race?] = TRACK MEAT (track meet)
  • 41D. [“This herb is amazing!”?] = GREAT THYME (great time)
  • 45D. [Avoid the downside in a corn investment?] = HEDGE MAIZE (hedge maze)
  • 66A. [Ingredient that tends to fly out of the stand mixer?] = WILD FLOUR (wild flower)
  • 82A. [Make an unusual choice while making borscht?] = SKIP A BEET (skip a beat)
  • 112A. [Sketch the Thanksgiving turkey before it’s carved?] = DRAW A FOWL (draw a foul)
  • 114A. [Request to a fishmonger for smaller portions?] = BREAK MY SOLE (break my soul)

These are solid puns and an impressive feat to fit nine of them into a 21×21 without ruining the surrounding fill. PULL A MUSSEL is probably my favorite and a nice way to kick off the puzzle. I wonder if any other good ones were left on the cutting room floor for lack of space or symmetry.

I hit a few tough patches in the northwest. For some reason 24D. [Jack kin] = MUENSTER was very tough for me to see. For one, the word “jack” has many meanings (I suppose I’m particularly attuned to it) and I think the unusual spelling of MUENSTER clouded my pattern recognition. Crossing it with an abbreviation with a brutally hard clue contributed to my struggle as well 37A. [Certain, for sure: Abbr.] = SYN. “Certain” is a synonym of “sure.” It’s a fair clue, even a good clue, but brutally hard. Slightly south of there, I failed a music trivia test with ESTE clued as the oldest Haim sister crossing MERLE [Travis or Haggard of country music]. Finally, the M in MERLE crossed 57D. [“See ya!”] = MAÑANA, which also gave me pause. I know that MAÑANA means tomorrow in Spanish and that “tomorrow” is a natural-enough way for Spanish speakers to say goodbye, but not having heard that usage, coupled with no hint of Spanish in the clue ([“Adios!”] would have been an easier clue) stumped me for a bit. None of these snags are the puzzle’s fault. Just my own gaps and hiccups which I eventually sorted through.

Other thoughts:

  • 9D. [Super conductors?] = MAESTROS is a lovely clue.
  • 36D. [Punishes with a fine] = MULCTS. I don’t remember ever encountering this word before. It’s fun to say and I’m glad to know it.
  • 84D. [Unhappy returns?] = BAD KARMA is my favorite entry in the puzzle

Happy Sunday y’all.

Robyn Weintraub’s Washington Post crossword, “Themeless No. 23” — Matt’s write-up

Robyn Weintraub’s Washington Post crossword solution, “Themeless No. 23”, 12/3/2023

Robyn Weintraub themeless. Need we say much more?

Three across spanners draw the eye — I liked the first the best: [Play whose title vehicle stopped service about six months after the play’s debut] A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE.

Classic Robyn in the spoken-phrase long downs WHATEVER IT TAKES and ALRIGHT ALREADY. More in that vein: BELIEVE ME, LATER BRO, NAILED IT.

I find it difficult to say much about themeless 21x21s – there’s bound to be decent connectivity, and plenty of room to ensure highlights in the fill. I’ve sometimes seen folks say that without a theme it can be challenging to keep attention up all the way through a 21. I didn’t feel that here, helped in large part by a decently wide array of source material for the different entries.


  • 14a [Surface for a small rug?] SCALP. This took me quite a while to grok — we’re talking about toupees here. I haven’t thought about hairpieces in a while – are they out of style, maybe?
  • 33a [Good thing to have on hand during a snowball fight?] MITTEN. I was always able to throw better with gloves, but YMMV
  • 50a [“Food Network Star” judge Bobby] FLAY. This is a personal issue, but I haven’t paid much attention to Bobby Flay since he put breading on his chicken wings.
  • 54a [Sights from ski lifts] TRAILS. Small uncertainty midsolve if this was right, since “runs” felt a bit more natural
  • 67a [“Lost in Yonkers” playwright Neil] SIMON. I don’t know the play, but I only know one “playwright Neil.” Hasn’t failed me yet.
  • 83a [Ingredients in some pies?] DATA. As in pie charts. I’ve never heard “pies” used in this way, but I can buy it.
  • 91a [Gargantua and Pantagruel, e.g.] GIANTS. These names (from a 16th century work by Francois Rabelais) are completely new to me. I see in looking them up that the former is the source of “gargantuan,” a word whose etymology I suppose I’d never considered before.
  • 95a [Strongest part of a zombie?] RUM. I’m not sure I’ve ever come across this cocktail!
  • 73d [Moreno who was the third-ever EGOT winner] RITA. In competitive awards, at least – putting Moreno third is discounting Barbra Streisand, who completed the quad in 1970 with a “Special Tony Award.” Six individuals have the full set using honorary or special awards.

Jared Goudsmit’s USA Today crossword, “Outlast” — Darby’s write-up

Editor: Jared Goudsmit

Theme: Each of the themers ends with OUT, making it the last part of the answer.

Theme Answers

Jared Goudsmit's USA Today crossword, “Outlast” solution 12/3/2023

Jared Goudsmit’s USA Today crossword, “Outlast” solution 12/3/2023

  • 20a [Veggie named for a Belgian city] BRUSSEL SPROUT
  • 37a [Person looking for the next big thing] TALENT SCOUT
  • 49a [Fish such as the steelhead] RAINBOW TROUT

This was a cute theme set, and as a devout lover of BRUSSEL SPROUTs, I was delighted to see the mini cabbages featured in this puzzle. TALENT SCOUT came with time, but once I plugged it in, I remembered to focus on the theme. In turn, I added OUT to 49a and immediately realized the answer was RAINBOW TROUT.

I thought that the grid was nice and open, making it easy to move between sections. It also allowed for longer fill like BEAUTY SLEEP, SMART TVS, and CAT TREAT. I also really liked the couple of puns hidden in answers like 16a [“Road work ___? Uh, yeah, I sure hope it does!”] AHEAD and 29d [“___ telling me a shrimp fried this rice?”] YOU’RE. I was very confused about 23a [Discreetly] because I initially only had the DL from ACHED and QUILL since it was an add consonant combo, but eventually I got ON THE DL. Similarly, I could not come up with the right phrase in 43a [“Not kidding!”] I MEANT IT.

Overall, though, this was really fun! I would say 10d [“Hey, check it out!”] OH LOOK!

Kelly Clark & Jeff Chen’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Coloring Outside the Lines”—Jim’s review

Theme: RAINBOW CONNECTION (107a, [Kermit’s solo in “The Muppet Movie” … and this puzzle’s theme]). The colors of the rainbow, as identified by circles, “connect” different words in the grid.

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Coloring Outside the Lines” · Kelly Clark & Jeff Chen · 12.3.23

Lovely puzzle! Not least of which because of the nostalgia I hold for that song. I was a kid when that original movie came out. Someone must have given me the audiotape of the soundtrack because I listened to it many, many times on my Sony Walkman.

So we get the song and the rainbow colors (and the nice aha moment that comes when you piece it all together), but we also get the rainbow grid art. Never mind that the colors should be arcing across the sky instead of going up and down. At least they’re all there in some fashion. Nicely done!

In addition we get plenty of fun long fill: “YOU GOOD?,” INLINE SKATE, SHOT GLASS, TIGER LILIES, THE LION KING, HEADLINER, COLONIALS, POWER VACUUM, PAPRIKA, MAN HUG (though I’ve usually heard “bro hug”), ST PATRICK, SCREWBALL, CONSOMME, EMOTICONS, SCOOP NECK, and AMERICANO. Wow! Didn’t know BHANGRA, but it’s a colorful addition to the lineup.

Conversely, that section of LUELLA crossing HE’S A, LIND, and LEHI was rough. I had to guess at that pair of Ls, but they made sense given that 42d is a first name for [Fashion designer Bartley]. Nearby ATTU had to be dug up from the depths, but the crossings there were all fair.

Clues of note:

  • 19a. [Jewish mourning period]. SHIVA. Of course I’ve heard the phrase “sitting SHIVA” but I never realized the spelling was the same as the Hindu god of destruction. I can’t imagine that there’s any relation there, is there?
  • 28a. [Llama’s feature?]. SILENT L. Hmm. Really? Because I definitely hear an L the way English-speakers say the word (but which L is it?). Of course, the Spanish pronunciation has the word starting with more of a Y sound.
  • 125a. [Acted the fall guy?]. RAKED. Nice clue. I do that a lot.
  • 71d. [Poisonous Asian snake]. KRAIT. I didn’t know this snake, so I asked our resident snake expert (my daughter). She wasn’t sure either but was eager to learn about it. She did point out the error in the clue, though, which is that this snake (and nearly all snakes with a toxin) are venomous, not poisonous. But then what should we find at 96a but VENOM, clued [Certain snake’s poison]? So I can see why “venomous” wasn’t used in this clue, but “poisonous” is still incorrect. “Dangerous” might’ve been sufficient for the KRAIT clue, and I’d have gone for “toxin” in the VENOM clue. BTW, there are some actual poisonous snakes.

Fun puzzle with an impressive construction and tons of meaty fill. 4.25 stars.

This entry was posted in Daily Puzzles and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Sunday, December 3, 2023

  1. steve says:

    more challenging and more fun than most sunday puzzles

    • JohnH says:

      I did like the challenge, even if a few tricky clues and phrase answers felt a tad off to my poor ear. I also, though, approached the puzzle with trepidation. It’s discovering the Sunday themes and theme answers that gets me through puzzles this large, so I knew this wasn’t going to be much fun.

      I don’t want to judge the puzzle accordingly. That’d be imposing my tastes. And the formidable grid layout proved to be an invitation, as was the difficult fill, especially difficult for a Sunday. Still, will never be a fave. Definitely no aha! moments to single out.

      • Dallas says:

        I was struck by the grid, which I enjoyed much more than Saturday’s puzzle… and this was trickier than most Sundays but played well. I had to keep coming back to it due to the structure of my day, so maybe if I had a nice continuous block of time to work it I would’ve liked it a bit better; I still in general prefer themed Sundays over themeless, even as I’ve grown to like Friday and Saturday themeless. Feels like a missed opportunity…

    • agreenberg says:

      second that 😄

  2. Timm says:

    Unfortunately I can’t find Universal (Sunday) today

  3. m says:

    The requested URL /uc/ucs231203.puz was not found on this server.

    also, your comments link leads to a page from 2011

    • Jim Peredo says:

      Oh, that’s bizarre. No idea why it should go to that page. I’ve checked the coding for this page and it looks correct (other than the fact there is no Universal (Sunday) post to link to).

  4. PJ says:

    NYT and LAT – Two MULCTS in one day should meet our MULCTS requirements for 30+ years

    • Mhoonchild says:

      My thoughts exactly!

    • Bryan says:

      Yes, what are the odds that such an obscure word would appear in two puzzles on the same day?! I had never heard of this word, but now probably won’t forget it, even though I’ll probably never need to use it!

  5. Martin says:

    I’ve asked Jeff Chen about the missing Universal. I’ll let you know when it’s resolved.

  6. Martin says:

    Sunday Universal is now available.

  7. David L says:

    I didn’t understand the clue for DATA in the WaPo, so thanks for the explanation — which seems like a stretch to me too.

    I also don’t understand INTERNATIONALDATELINE as “what comes between pi day and the ides of March.” I know those days are 3/14 and 3/15 respectively, but that doesn’t help me.

    • PJ says:

      There will be a period of time when the date on one side of the IDL will be 3/14 and the date on the other side will be 3/15. I’m not up to defining it better right now (probably in terms of UTC).

      • Mr. [not at all] Grumpy says:

        Thank you. That one mystified me as well.

      • David L says:

        Thanks, that must be it. I was thinking it would be a more specific reference to those two days.

        You can also pass from 3/14 to 3/15 by, you know, going to bed.

      • PJ says:

        Now I’m thinking that it’s 24 hours from 12:00 AM on 3/15 on the western side of the IDL until 12:00 AM on 3/15 on the eastern side.

    • DougC says:

      I thought those were both really clever and amusing clues! There was a lot of entertainment value in this grid – helps keep up the solver’s interest through a Sunday-size grid. A great Sunday puzzle from a great constructor.

  8. MarkAbe says:

    LAT: Another fun solve from Zhouqin Burnikel.
    Evidence that there is a vast conspiracy among Xword editors:
    The word “MULCTS”, which I had never seen before, was in both NYT and LAT.

  9. Melissa says:

    i thought the underlying theme of the “freestyling” puzzle was based on menopause because of the four starting point clues:”ESTROGENPATCH”, “WACKADOODLE”, “HELLSCAPE”, and “REMINDMEAGAIN”…😂😂 anyone else??

  10. Dan says:

    NYT: I don’t mind a big themeless occasionally on Sundays, but I want it to be special, not just a large Wednesday-difficulty puzzle. Like a large, super-clever Saturday themeless, maybe.

    Such as we got occasionally about 20+ years ago.

  11. DougC says:

    OSWALD the Lucky Rabbit:

  12. Martin says:


    The “venomous is not poisonous” technicality is mentioned often in these reviews. And it is a real distinction in biology, but not so clear in ordinary language. Just about every dictionary lists “venomous” as a definition of “poisonous.”

    Lots of clues can be criticized if interpreted technically, but common usage, and the dictionary, is the editor’s get-out-of-jail-free car.

  13. David L says:

    Chiming in late on the LAT: is ‘break my soul’ a familiar expression to others? Not to me it ain’t. BLESSMYSOLE would have been funnier.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      I hadn’t seen that phrase either and asked the Google machine. It looks like at least one of its claims to fame is that it’s a Beyoncé song title. That explains why it’s not familiar to me.

  14. Dallas says:

    Liked the Sunday WaPo themeless a bit better than the NYT. I guess “gargantuan ” is in the same league as “jumbo”. I liked the longer fill, though the cluing for INTERNATIONAL DATE LINE felt like a bit of a stretch. But cluing RUM with Zombie was really fun; it’s strong and sweet and not my choice drink :-)

  15. John Malcolm says:

    Just got around to NYT. Wife laughed out loud when I read the “menopause” note. But neither of us could understand the relationship between the title (“Freestyling”) and the odd but VERY REGULAR pattern of dark squares in the grid. Anybody see what the author’s getting at?

Comments are closed.